Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Barnum Identity

In this election year, with all the talk about voting blocs and demographics, there is one group that is rarely mentioned. Yet it is one of the largest segments of the U.S. population, if not the largest, and it has become an increasingly powerful force to be reckoned with on the political, economic, and social landscape.

I’m referring, of course, to suckers.

It’s not as if this is a completely new social group—certainly the advertising industry has long focused on this huge and fertile consumer base. And the emergence and eventual dominance of movies and (especially) television as purveyors of entertainment and information has expanded the economic influence of suckers to the point where they have become arguably the most influential segment of the American audience. But public and popular discourse has been very slow in acknowledging this all-important group.

“There’s a definite social stigma still attached to being a sucker,” explains Dr. Herbert Dietrich, a sociologist and author of the upcoming book The Gullible Majority. “People associate the label with ignorance and stupidity, so suckers are understandably wary of identifying as such, while business and government tend to allude to suckers without being explicit enough to offend. It’s a problem because the shame and secrecy makes it more difficult for suckers to fully participate in public life.”

But there are signs of change. The Bush administration inaugurated a novel approach that has surprised veteran political insiders. Abandoning old notions of apparent adherence to empirical facts, the Bush team has made explicit overtures to the sucker demographic through an ingenious, “fluid” concept of reality that conforms to whatever is required by the authorities at a given time. Voters are therefore encouraged to affirm rather than conceal their sucker identity, a bold strategy that has had interesting but mixed results to this date.

Researches indicate that suckers constitute close to 80% of consumers of pharmaceuticals, beauty products, video games, alcoholic beverages, and family-size vehicles. The percentages are high for many other sectors of the economy as well. The Fox News channel is famed for aiming its programming exclusively at this group, but the other television networks are gaining ground, especially among those who remain ambivalent about their sucker identity.

Suckers are repelled by the cold abstractions of intellectuals and social engineers. Their concerns are centered more in matters of the heart, such as prayer in schools, gay marriage, or the sufferings of celebrities. Values matter to them, not ideas.

Despite the ugly stereotypes, suckers come from all walks of life and every level of education. College-educated suckers are in fact eagerly sought after by companies because of their generally greater spending power. Of course we’re used to seeing those people sitting behind a political candidate holding signs and clapping, but this is only a small segment of this dynamic group—in fact, suckers are all around us, in our homes, schools, and places of employment. Soon they will be tired of the secrecy surrounding their extraordinary dominance in American life.

Already there are sucker clubs and support groups springing up around the nation. Therapists and self-improvement coaches are helping people acknowledge their inner suckers and become proud of their malleability and openness to suggestion. What used to be scorned as naivete is now being affirmed as vulnerability.

If indeed there is a sucker born every minute, we can look forward to a better future in America. The conflict and divisiveness that has torn our country apart will gradually subside as suckers discover their solidarity and unite behind our leaders. As long as there are suckers, Wall Street and the economy will prosper, our troops will continue to defend freedom, and the nuclear family will endure. Here is the real center, the mainstream of society, the backbone of our country, the greatest on earth. All they need is to be told what to do, and all they ask is to be given an even break.

1 comment:

Mauigirl said...

Brilliant. And too true.

Another related correlary from Mencken - "no one ever went broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American public."